Living long and ageing well: is epigenomics the missing link between nature and nurture?

Irene Maeve Rea, Margaret Dellett, Ken I. Mills, ACUME2 Project

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)


Human longevity is a complex trait and increasingly we understand that both genes and lifestyle interact in the longevity phenotype. Non-genetic factors, including diet, physical activity, health habits, and psychosocial factors contribute approximately 50 % of the variability in human lifespan with another 25 % explained by genetic differences. Family clusters of nonagenarian and centenarian siblings, who show both exceptional age-span and health-span, are likely to have inherited facilitatory gene groups, but also have nine decades of life experiences and behaviours which have interacted with their genetic profiles. Identification of their shared genes is just one small step in the link from genes to their physical and psychological profiles. Behavioural genomics is beginning to demonstrate links to biological mechanisms through regulation of gene expression, which directs the proteome and influences the personal phenotype. Epigenetics has been considered the missing link between nature and nurture. Although there is much that remains to be discovered, this article will discuss some of genetic and environmental factors which appear important in good quality longevity and link known epigenetic mechanisms to themes identified by nonagenarians themselves related to their longevity. Here we suggest that exceptional 90-year old siblings have adopted a range of behaviours and life-styles which have contributed to their ageing-well-phenotype and which link with important public health messages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-54
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Early online date02 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

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